If you appreciate the work done on this blog, please consider making a small donation. Thank you!

If you appreciate the work done on this blog, please consider making a small donation. Thank you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Castle County Bus Map

Circa 1940 Bus Route Map (photo by Mike Ciosek)
 You know how sometimes when you're not even thinking about a problem and BAM!, out of nowhere, a flash of inspiration comes to you? That's what happened to me a week or two ago when I (belatedly) realized I might have a resource to answer some questions raised by a few previous posts. This goes back again to the discussion about trolley and bus service in Mill Creek Hundred, triggered by the picture on this post, which then spawned this one. The resource I finally thought of dates to the time just after tracked trolley service ended, but while trolley coaches (or trackless trolleys) still plied the roads along with  gasoline buses. What it is specifically is a map showing the routes of those services in New Castle County.

The large, wall-mounted map (probably about 4ft x 5ft) is located in the back video room at the Red Clay Valley Visitor's Center, at the Wilmington & Western Railroad's Greenbank Station. The map, while not exactly hidden, is not in a position where it is viewed by most who visit the museum. It's also somewhat unique in the collection in that it's one of the few bus-related items. That being said, I think it's a fascinating piece, and one that I've spent quite a bit of time just staring at.

Unfortunately, there is no date on the map, but I can narrow it down to about a 6 or 7 year span. There are no tracked trolley routes shown on the map, and the last of these, the Maryland Ave line to Silview, was converted to a trolley coach line in 1940, so it's no older than that. On the ether end, my house was built in 1946-7, and my street and neighborhood are not present on the map. In the bottom right corner there are four rusted thumbtacks that probably once held a card with more information about the map, but the card is long gone. There is no other identification on the map that would indicate who made it, where it was originally displayed, or when it was created.

Section showing Stanton and Marshallton (photo by Mike Ciosek)

Although the whole map is full of interesting things, the section most relevant to our purposes is the part shown above. For one thing, it shows the descendant of the Stanton trolley line, which by this time was a combination trolley coach line (from the city to Silview) and a gasoline bus line (that also included a stretch of Newport Gap Pike and Boxwood Rd). The bus route to Stanton terminated at the bridge over White Clay Creek, which right in this era (1942, to be exact) was being rebuilt as the concrete rainbow bridge.

In addition to the Stanton line, there was another bus route that more or less followed Kirkwood Highway from Wilmington to Newark. On its way, the bus passed through Marshallton via Old Capitol Trail, instead of taking the newly-built section of Kirkwood Highway. In this area, there was a branch that took Greenbank Road, and even a loop up to the Cedars. South of Marshallton, there was a short spur that went down Stanton Road, turning around just before the railroad tracks and the old Kiamensi Station (which probably was not there/in operation by then, but I don't know the exact date it was taken out of service).

All this only scratches the surface of what's on this map. If you want to see it in person, the Visitor's Center museum is open from 11:45 AM to 2:30 PM any day that the trains are running. Check the Wilmington & Western's website for schedules. If anyone knows anything more about this map, or can remember seeing anything like it before, let us know. Feel free to chime in with any other questions or comments about anything else you find interesting about it, too. There's certainly plenty to look at.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I might be able to narrow the date of the map a year or two more. The airport is identified as the "New Castle County Airbase", which may imply that it was made sometime during WWII, but I don't know enough to state that for certain.
  • This page at OldWilmington.net has lots of good pictures of trolleys, trolley coaches, and buses.
  • There are a number of white circles with holes in them on the map, which appear to have been thumbtacks. I have no idea what they might have been for. They could have been marking specific locations (although I don't see a pattern), or they could have (with some string) marked some other sort of routes.
  • Thanks to Mike Ciosek for playing with his new toy taking the pictures of the map.
  • With a hat tip to Donna Peters, here is an ad placed by the Delaware Coach Company in the December 3, 1944 edition of The Sunday Morning Star (roughly about the same time the map was produced). It gives a brief history of public transportation in Wilmington from 1864 to 1944. The Delaware Coach Co. was the descendant of the Wilmington City Railway Co. and the Wilmington and Philadelphia Traction Co. It was formed in the 1930's when the trolley companies were forced by FDR's New Deal legislation to divest themselves from their power holdings. Before that, because the trolleys were electric, many trolley comapnies also produced electricity.


  1. Here's some more info to only confuse things more about the map's date. I noticed on the map that Denn Place in Pleasant Hills was not shown. That street was the westernmost one in the original duplex development that was built by Bob McCleary (Marshallton S&L, Pleasant Hill Bowling Alley, etc) who built that development for the US government early in the War and was used as officer housing during WW II. My first home was on Denn Place and I believe it was built in 1943. I'm surprised the map doesn't show Delaware Park which was opened circa 1938 and would have been a popular bus destination (though the Stanton route ends at it's entrance. Why wouldn't they run the bus line another quarter mile to Stanton RR Station?? Somebody must have planned to build homes behind Stanton, if you'll notice the tree-named streets that were for the most part never developed just east of Mill Road. In that part of Stanton, the dead end alley just south of Main Street (extended, paved and now called Mitch Road) was once called Pig Alley. Only Elm Street exists as the connector street on the east side of the Exxon station.

  2. Good points. Actually, though, DE Park is on the map, just hard to see from what I posted. It's just off of the close-up, but you can kind of see it on the big picture. If the Denn Pl info is correct, then that would put the map before '43.

    The Stanton roads are interesting. I've seen before on other maps where streets that were planned at the time but never built are included. Taken with the fact that the last tracked trolleys left in '40, I wonder if this map dates from either 40 or 41 -- after the change (so they'd need new maps) but before the war. 12/7/41 could explain why the "tree streets" behind Stanton were never developed.

  3. I added an AFART with a link to a 1944 newspaper ad giving a history of public transportation in Wilmington. Interesting, and relevant. I also added the same link to the Stanton Trolley post.